sealPurdue News

March 2001

Holocaust survivors tell oral histories in 'Bitter Prerequisites'

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – When Joseph Haberer was a young boy, Hitler youth would routinely throw stones at him and call him names. On Nov. 11, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht – a night of organized Nazi terror – he arrived at his elementary school and found everybody pointing their fingers at him. He was then told to leave.

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Haberer's story is one of 12 told in "Bitter Prerequisites: A Faculty for Survival from Nazi Terror," by Purdue history Professor William Laird Kleine-Ahlbrandt, which was published this month by Purdue University Press.

According to Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the 12 Holocaust survivors who tell their story in "Bitter Prerequisites" did not view themselves as victims. Kleine-Ahlbrandt said he was curious and impressed with their ability to transcend their pasts and have successful lives and careers.

"These 12 individuals found it difficult to recall the painful experiences, believing that those who had not been though similar trauma would not understand or even be interested," he said. "Many of the memories revealed in the book had not been previously shared with friends or even, in some cases, their own family."

Survivors profiled in the book include:

• Haberer, who survived the Nazi regime because his parents sent him to safety on the Kindertransport to England when he was 10 years old. His parents were killed in the Holocaust.

• Leon Trachtman, an American prisoner of war from New York City, who was sent to the Berga concentration camp in Germany in January 1944 because he was Jewish. He was one of 300 survivors liberated from the camp in spring 1945.

• Anna Berkovitz, imprisoned at Auschwitz at 13 years old, her chances of survival increased because her father covered her hair with her mother's black kerchief – leading the Germans to believe she was an adult.

• Michael Golomb, who – even before the Nazis came to power – was forced to withdraw as high school class valedictorian because a class petition protested the honor being bestowed upon a Jew. After graduating from the University of Berlin, he was forced to leave Germany and seek refuge in Yugoslavia.

• Michael Rossmann, who was part Jewish and part Quaker. Despite having Nazis in his immediate family, he escaped from Germany to England.

"My book situates its individual accounts within their larger historical context," Kleine-Ahlbrandt said. "It is a story of Nazi racial policies, a story of exclusion and deracination, a story of escape, a story of developing values, a story of readjustment and success."

All 12 survivors followed very different paths that led to becoming professors at Purdue. Some of the book's subjects still teach on the West Lafayette campus.

Haberer has taught at Berkeley, Rutgers University and became a professor of political science at Purdue. He is now retired and a founder and editor of "Shofar."

Trachtman, in addition to eventually becoming a professor in the Department of Communications, served as assistant, associate and acting dean of the School of Humanities, Social Studies and Education. He is now retired.

Berkovitz became the first tenured instructor in the School of Science who did not have a Ph.D. She currently teaches at Purdue.

Golomb became a professor of mathematics at Purdue. He is now retired.

Rossmann is best known for his pioneering work in modeling the structure of viruses. In 1985 his research group became the first to solve the structure of an animal virus when it mapped the three-dimensional structure of a common cold virus. He currently teaches at Purdue.

Kleine-Ahlbrandt received a doctorate degree from the University of Geneva, where he attended the Graduate Institute of International Studies. He is an associate professor in the Department of History, where he specializes in modern European diplomatic and cultural history and 20th century Britain and France. His published books include "The Burden of Victory: France, Britain and the Enforcement of the Versailles Peace, 1919-1925," "Europe since 1945: From Conflict to Community" and "La Tosca: The Drama Behind the Opera." He resides in Oak Park, Ill..

Source: William Laird Kleine-Ahlbrandt, associate professor of history, (765) 494-4138 or (765) 494-4122;

Writer: Bob Johnson, (765) 496-7704,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Purdue faculty member Michael Rossmann's 1939 visa to enter the United Kingdom specified a pleasure visit of about three weeks. Germany's invasion of Poland, and subsequent war with England, extended his stay until 1956. (Photo courtesy of Purdue University Press)

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